In honor of Mother’s Day, I decided to think back to the very first impressions or memories I have of my Mom. What finally struggled its way through the mists of time was an impression of a very tall person. Feelings of safety and security were present, along with the idea that this person was best avoided if I planned any “questionable” activities. Like telling my sister I hated her and Jesus. Awareness was not a large part of my life when I was 4 years old, so that one was overheard by Mom. On the bright side that story ends with me asking Jesus into my heart, so good times.
When I was at the age of my earliest memories we lived in an old neighborhood in Minneapolis/St. Paul. To my recollection, it was a small, white, wood-frame house with an enclosed front porch, sandwiched between other houses of the same vintage. The curb was lined with huge elm trees, their massive roots causing the sidewalk running in front of the houses to buckle in places. The back door opened to a small, grass-covered yard with wooden fencing on two sides providing privacy from our neighbors. There was a small separate garage with carriage doors out back of the house, one wall right up against the alley which ran behind all the homes on our block. I think I played with some of the kids in the house across the alley behind us. That was also the house and yard featured in a recurring dream. It was the dream where my 4-year-old self was being chased around the backyard and side of the house by a giant grasshopper. He would chase me round and round the house, my little legs pumping furiously while my body moved as though the air was made of molasses, the grasshopper’s giant hind legs driving him ever closer. I would sometimes keep the round, plastic wading pool between me and the grasshopper, but eventually would lose my nerve and make a break for the back door before I woke up breathing hard, my heart pounding fiercely in my chest. I think back now and wonder what would have happened in my dream if I had thought to stop running and ask him what he wanted. He probably would have eaten me.
It was at that house where I was under our Plymouth “working on it” with my Dad while the engine was running (it was the 1970’s) and my little hand reached out to touch a spinning pulley. A finger zipped between the pulley and fan belt and surprised the heck out of me. I might have said “heck” if I had known bad words, but since I didn’t know any I casually scrambled out from underneath the car and acted like nothing had happened. No use drawing attention and risking offending the tall people in charge.
The most vivid memory I have in the “Best-of” earliest memories of Mom is in that same little white house. When I was 4-5 years old my mother was a young 29-30-year-old with three beautiful children. Well, one beautiful child anyway, the other two were my sisters. One sister was 15 months older and the other 13 months younger than me, so Mom had her hands full. Girls can be very difficult. It was an idyllic summer afternoon in the Twin Cities. The sun was warm, the air was happy and buzzed with insects, our quiet street dappled beneath the shade of the great elms. The little white house was quiet, the open front door allowing a cool breeze to pass through the screen door of the porch to the peaceful interior. The peaceful interior was what first alerted my napping mother to a potential catastrophe. She no doubt deserved the nap, my sisters having taxed her to the extreme, bless her heart. I have no memory of leaving the house, my three-year-old sister chasing after me, but I do remember walking down the sidewalk about a block to the Tom Thumb convenience store. I remember walking in past the open glass door with its cigarette advertisements and accepting the chocolate which was offered to me. (When you put candy bars at the same eye level as a small child, that’s pretty much a standing offer to help yourself.) I’m pretty sure I shared some of the booty with my little sister. She was no doubt a bad influence on me – you know how three-year-olds can be. I might have gotten away with it, but my mistake was going back for seconds. The concerned man behind the counter asked me where my mother was, assuming I must have one. I told him I didn’t. Skeptical, he wrote a note on a piece of paper instructing me to take it to her, so I obediently left the store. Walking through the parking lot, I let the note blow away. Shortly after that, I looked up and the more vivid of memories splashes like a home movie in living color across the screen of my mind. A very tall, unhappy-looking mother was striding with great purpose down the cracked sidewalk toward us. I suspected she might be unhappy with me and skillfully abandoned the spent candy wrappers in the grass next to me. I’m not sure exactly how our conversation went, but as mom got down to eye level with me I do remember denying any wrongdoing as she stared into my innocent, chocolate-covered face. I was marched like a prisoner of war back to the Tom Thumb, where I was made to apologize for stealing. It wasn’t over. This poor, tired, young mother walked us home past all my discarded wrappers and sent me immediately to my cell where I could hear her on the phone talking with the Warden. That did not bode well. Dad received a call at work from his crying wife and listened to her describe the recent adventures of his children, her feeling like a failure, and asking him what on earth she should do. Let’s just say it involved spankings. A lot of spankings. It must have made an impression on me, because I’ve never gone with my sister to rob Tom Thumb again.
If I could give a toast to my Mom and to all the mothers I’ve ever known, it would go something like this:
Here’s to band-aids on boo-boo’s and a kiss to make it better. Here’s to what’s-for-dinner, and chore lists. Here’s to getting everyone to dress up for family pictures. Here’s to a messy house and piles of laundry. Here’s to the last one out the door on Sunday morning. Here’s to a listening ear and an always ready hug. Here’s to a tender touch when we are sick. Here’s to telling us we have it in us do anything, even when we don’t. Here’s to the person who introduced us by her very presence to beauty and romance. Here’s to the woman who believes with hope, who loves completely, sacrifices fully, and comforts so truly. Here’s to Mom.